Interview with Pierre Schori, UN Special Representative to Côte d’Ivoire

Pierre Schori recently left his post as the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Côte d’Ivoire. In this interview by Mikael Eriksson he gives his views on the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire and the challenges that the country is facing, but also on possibilities for a positive development.

Pierre Schori at a conference in Stockholm in May 2007. Photo by Susanne Linderos.

In 1999, the first coup ever to occur in Côte d’Ivoire was staged against the ruling party, Parti démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire-Rassemblement démocratie africain (PDCI-RDA) and its leader, President Félix Houphouët-Boignand. The main coup-maker General Robert Guei, agreed to hold elections in late 2000, which he much to his dismay lost. Another rebellion was launched against the government on 19 September 2002. The northern rebels, the New Forces as they were also called, blamed consecutive governments for discriminating against the northern ethnic communities, mainly Muslims, and those of foreign origin living in Côte d’Ivoire. One of the main causes for the rebellion, it was stated, was the complicated process for those with foreign roots to acquire nationality and own land. Another contributing factor was that presidential candidates in the elections had to give evidence that both their parents were of Ivorian nationality something which the rebels considered unfavourably discriminatory. As a result of the rebellion, the country has now been divided for more than five years. Since the conflict broke out, the United Nations, France and South African President Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the African Union have worked with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and the leadership of the rebel forces to negotiate a peace deal. In 2005, Pierre Schori was appointed UN Special Representative to Côte d’Ivoire to facilitate this objective. Today, he has recently stepped down and is able to provide a personal account on the challenges of the peace process.

For many citizens of the industrialized world, Côte d’Ivoire is a very remote country. Why should one pay attention to the crisis in the first place?

I believe, it is only for non-French speakers that Côte d’Ivoire seems remote. For instance, one should not forget that the international community has acted upon Côte d’Ivoire under a Chapter VII decision. Acting under these premises, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire is considered to be a threat to international peace and stability. In fact the whole region is dependent on the developments in Ivory Cost. This underlines the importance of this country for all members of the international community.

What are the most immediate challenges that Côte d’Ivoire has to face in the forthcoming months?
There is a roadmap endorsed by the Security Council, as well as by ECOWAS and the African Union. The Ivorian parties have also signed this roadmap but have not yet committed themselves fully to its implementation. Progress is taking place with a peace plan being implemented. Continued challenges lie ahead: a) Concomitant disarmament and identification; b) to speed up the redeployment of the national administration in this divided country; and c) to prepare for elections no later than in October 2007. All these elements should start at once.

What have been the key difficulties when tackling the current crisis?
One of the main problems that the UN has faced has been the lack of confidence between the main Ivorian parties. There is also an element of greed and bad leadership in the ruling circles. Another problem has been the inadequate resources for the UNCOI mission, especially the insufficient number of troops and police which are so much needed. The Security Council (read the US) has refused to accept the UN Secretary General’s repeated request.

During the cold war there were several academic circles which viewed the world arena as a battle stage between centres of power and satellite states. This relationship, it was often argued, was marked by an asymmetric dependency. Is there today, in the post-cold war era, a genuine wish to help Côte d’Ivoire back on its feet or do the major powers in the world system today care about the country because of the exclusive natural resources that are found here?
There is a genuine will to end the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire and even more so in the region. Some argue that Côte d’Ivoire is a “French problem” and should therefore be resolved by increased French goodwill and resources. However, I do not agree with that view. Although this is an African problem, it still needs the strong involvement of the international community at large.

Some research findings suggest that violence during peace negotiations could have a decisive impact on the final result of a comprehensive settlement, as it makes stakeholders fearful of committing themselves to the negotiation process. What impact have ongoing violent incidents had for the settlement of this particular crisis?
It is most likely that past violence, including the rebellion itself, has given rise to the deep lack of confidence between the ex-belligerents that we now see. On the other hand, violence is being used too frequently as a political means, especially by the pro-government so-called Young Patriots and different militia groups.

For an outsider, the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire is somewhat difficult to understand. It seems that there are many factors that have contributed to the current crisis such as: racism; competition over minerals; post-colonial problems; social deprivation; regional instability; greed and grievances, etc. How would you describe the root-causes?
The root causes are well known. Among them the millions of people lacking proper identification papers, there is also the unresolved land ownership issues, bad governance, impunity, and lack of transparency impacting on exploitation of natural resources and citizens’ confidence in government. However, in my view the lack of a genuine political will to attack these problems is the main obstacle.

The international community imposed targeted sanctions to put pressure on some of the key actors in the conflict. This was an innovative role by the Security Council and has also been utilized elsewhere in Africa. What role do targeted UN sanctions play in the current conflict?

They played a positive and deterrent role after the January 2006 attacks on the UN by the Young Patriots.

Have UN targeted sanctions had any immediate effect on those entities that were targeted, or have these sanctions only been used for their symbolic value?
I do believe so, both as a way to fight impunity and for the purpose of acting as a deterrent.

Do you believe that UN targeted sanctions are likely to contribute to a behavioural change?
Yes, but the Security Council could do better, basically by being more united and forceful. Today no further sanctions have been applied although much warranted.

Do you believe that there is enough monitoring of the sanctions by the international community, such as the UN and the EU?
The EU has chosen to work through the SC so far. The Sanctions Committee is well informed by the close monitoring that ONUCI is doing in the country and reporting the findings to the Committee. It is very important, given the complexity of the situation and sophistication of the parties.

In some recent research there is support suggesting that comprehensive peace deals signed by all parties to a conflict do not necessarily lead to a more sustainable agreement. As a UN representative to the Côte d’Ivoire, how important do you think it is to have all parties to the crisis on board on a comprehensive agreement? Are key parties more important than spoilers in the periphery?

In Côte d’Ivoire the parties to the conflict (and the solution) are well defined. They must all be included in the final agreement. And nothing will hold unless there is a strong feeling of a fair deal among the people of Côte d’Ivoire, they have been excluded for too long. So the civil society must be given a voice and a role, as stipulated in the latest Security Council Resolutions. The peace deal seems to be taking everyone on board now.

One key term in the peace research vocabulary is Conflict Prevention. How much consideration are you paying to the fact that a settlement may yet erupt into a new conflict in some years time. Are you actively seeking to establish long-term conflict prevention mechanisms in the resolution of the Ivorian crisis?
Conflict prevention is a key to sustainable agreements in Côte d’Ivoire. We have several unresolved festering issues like the land issue and nationality, add to that impunity and scandalous income distribution from natural resources due to lack of transparency and accountability. This needs to be dealt with, or the conflict risks repeating itself in the future.

Some critics would argue that democracy from above will never work. Is this something that concerns you as a UN representative when trying to settle the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire?

Democracy, neither from above nor from the outside will hold in the long run. But you do have a problem when you are acting from a UN Chapter 7 resolution and at the same time dealing with a failing but not failed state. For example, one party or more can play out the constitution and other internal institutions with trappings of legitimacy against what is perceived as outside interference by actors like the UN or the AU.

Is the international community paying enough attention to the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, or is it overshadowed by other conflicts on the African continent?

It is receiving attention. The Security Council have adopted almost 20 Resolutions since 2002. However, more resources should accompany tough words and expanding mandates.

If you could speculate a bit, where is Côte d’Ivoire a year from now?

A pessimist would say: not really better off. The optimist would say: we are on the right track. It is still possible to hold elections if the political will is there. The UN Security Council has succeeded with putting into place a peace deal. However, if the Ivorians fail again, for the third time, to meet the goal set of preparing for an election in October 2007, then patience might have run out and more drastic solutions may be suggested. Something like a Liberia-style transition may then be envisaged, so let us hope that the optimists are right!

To the top